FAST FOOD, FAST WOMEN
written and directed by Amos Kollek with Louise Lasser, Anna Thomson, Jamie Harris, and Robert Modica opens June 15 at Broadway Market
NEW YORK NEUROTICS are tricky subjects for anyone working in the long, native shadow of Woody Allen. Israeli director Amos Kollek has been living in Manhattan for some 15 years, but he still betrays a newcomer's uncertainty about Gotham's prickly love-me-on-my-own-terms singles crowd. At first, it helps to cast Allen's ex-wife, Louise Lasser (Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman) as 60-something Emily, who answers a personals ad placed by shy, lonely widower Paul (Robert Modica). There's something undeniably authentic about their first awkward meeting in a city diner. Equally convincing is the park-bench romantic coaching Paul receives from his cynical, kvetching old crones. (Victor Argo and Mark Margolis are veteran character actors familiar from a thousand flicks.) This is a New York you recognize; the liver spots and desperation are real.
Then there's the ersatz quirky, self- consciously capricious New York occupied by Bella (Anna Thomson), whom Kollek unfortunately makes the leading figure in this double-plotted romantic comedy. This is the New York where buxom, aimless 35-year-old single women perform stripteases on fire escapes because hey, Kollek thinks, that's what zany New York women do. (Hasn't he heard of Xanax?) This is the New York where zany Bella clings to her $8-per-hour waitress job and 12-year affair with a married man (an enjoyably shifty, smirking Austin Pendleton) because she's still hoping for a commitment. (Hasn't she heard of Prozac?) This is the New York where zany, brainy exhibitionists work in peep shows, then chastely date their septuagenarian customers. (Haven't they heard of Viagra?) This is the New York where hookers have hearts of gold. (Haven't they heard of crack?) In other words, it's a place of the imagination—and a poor imagination, at that.
A good film might've come from concentrating on the Lasser story (like Isaac Bashevis Singer on the Upper West Side), but Fast Food is only half a good film. Bella falls for a single-parent Brit cabbie (Jamie Harris, son of Richard), who's naturally also an idealistic writer. Harris hasn't a whit of charisma, while Thomson exudes a freaky sex-doll allure that suggests half the cosmetic surgeons on the Upper East Side have had their way with her. (She was better cast as a transsexual in last August's French film Water Drops on Burning Rocks.)
Elements of screwball comedy have everyone hopping in and out of the sack, and there's even an $8.9 million inheritance that turns the plot, but none of it moves Fast Food beyond the level of a director's vanity project. At one point, Bella wonders, "You think I'm making a fool of myself?" Kollek should ask himself the same question.